Hi Ann, thank you for inviting me to your Blog.
Gosh that’s a hard one. I try not to have a style, well at least not a conscious one. The way I work has developed naturally, and has developed through observing people’s mannerisms and expressions, how people interact with each other. I record colours and landscapes. Colour is also a very important element of my illustrations. I suppose my style is quite traditional, with almost a slightly retro feel. I try to make books that I would have enjoyed reading as a child
What’s remarkable about this ‘Jewish’ book is that is set in Afghanistan, during a time when Jews were welcome and numerous. When was that?
To be honest I’m not sure of exact dates. We decided that the book should be set at “some time in the past”. It was already a difficult job finding enough “visual research”, if we had tried to tie ourselves to an exact time period it would have been virtually impossible. It was important to be as authentic as possible, but the most important thing was to portray the story.
And how did you research what clothing, buildings, –even turbans look like back then? They are so detailed that I really got a sense of place and authenticity from them. (And I loved the Shahs bed—looks quite comfy!)
Anne and I found every reference book we could get our hands on, made sure we referenced every website we came across, so that everything could be checked and double checked by Anne’s contacts. Some things couldn’t be found and had a certain amount of artistic license. The Shah’s bed being one. It was important to me to show the contrast been the rich interior of the Shah’s house, and the more humble interior of the Poor Man’s home.
What was your relationship with your author in researching and creating historical authenticity?
Anne and I ping ponged reference material back and forth. It was a very lengthy process. I was delighted when I found a lot of paintings of military uniforms. Anne is in America, I am in the United Kingdom, so we had to work the time differences into our communication.
A combination of Jews and Afghanistan in todays world seems..well, unusual to say the least. Did todays political realities come to play in the creation of the book at all?
Not for me. I am an illustrator, I illustrate stories. This is a warm story about the Shah’s desire to understand the poor man’s faith. It is a story about tolerance and understanding….I hope that message can be embraced by all.
I googled you, of course! And discovered that you received the Middle Easter Book Award in the past. Can you describe what that honor is—who awards it, how often, etc.?
How Many Donkey’s ( an Arabic Counting Tale) received the Sharjah book award, and the Middle Eastern book award in 2010. The Wooden Sword was joint winner of the Middle Eastern Book Award in 2012. The Middle Eastern Book Award recognizes quality books for children and young adults that contribute meaningfully to an understanding of the Middle East and its component societies and cultures.
Books are judged on the authenticity of their portrayal of a Middle Eastern subject, as well as on characterization, plot, and appeal for the intended audience. For this award, the Middle East is defined as the Arab World, Iran, Israel, Turkey, and Afghanistan. It is awarded yearly.
In the past, you’ve illustrated many books with religious content. Does illustrating content with religious themes have any special challenges?
I have illustrated many biblical scenes. The biggest challenge is that those scenes have been illustrated many times before……so how do you make your version different ? I try to focus on the message of the story, and the warmth and interaction of the characters.
Well, the warmth of the story really comes through in your images, Carol. Thanks so much for giving me beautiful, detailed paintings to look at as I read it to my daughter.
Copies are available here: The Wooden Sword: A Jewish Folktale from Afghanistan.
PLUS: I also had the opportunity to interview Adam Gustavson, another Sydney Taylor awardee. You can view that interview here.